by Gene Howington, Guest Blogger
There is an old adage, “What’s good for the goose is [not] sauce for the gander” or as phrased today “What’s good for the goose is [not] good for the gander”. The implication being that what is good for one is good for all or not good for all if stated in the negated form. A case out of Florida provides a perfect example to give this adage a workout.
The goose is former President George W. Bush.
The member of the gander in this case is William T. Woodward of Titusville, Florida. Woodward is charged with shooting three of his neighbors, two of them fatally, over the 2012 Labor Day weekend.
His defense? The sauce.
Woodward’s attorneys are asserting Florida’s “Stand Your Ground’ law and the Bush Doctrine.
Let’s examine this case in the light of the history and consequences of “Stand Your Ground”, the Bush Doctrine and how an equally controversial foreign policy stance might impact a domestic criminal proceeding.
Stand Your Ground
The controversial so-called “Stand Your Ground” Law came to the forefront of national media with the Trayvon Martin case. Although his killer, George Zimmerman, and his attorneys decided not to pursue a “Stand Your Ground” hearing, that case was when many people first heard of this law. It probably won’t be the last. In 2005 when this law was adopted by Florida, Florida state Senator Steve Geller warned that it ran the risk of encouraging people to think that “you ought to be able to kill people that are walking toward you on the street because of this subjective belief that you’re worried that they may get in a fight with you.”
Originally enacted in 2005, the bill was signed into law by then Governor Jeb Bush and was sponsored by Florida state Representative Dennis Baxley and state Senator Durell Peadon, Republican allies of the former Governor. This so-called model legislation has been pushed for nationwide on a state-by-state basis by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a shadowy 501(c)(3) corporation that allegedly promotes “limited government, free enterprise and federalism” through sponsoring “model legislation”. Funded by the notorious Koch Brothers and such corporations as private prison industry giants GEO Group, Inc. and Corrections Corporation of America, ALEC has been described in less euphemistic language by John Nichols writing for The Nation as a “collaboration between multinational corporations and conservative state legislators” that pursues goals of privatizing government services, reduction and elimination of corporate taxes and regulation, seeks to classify environmental and animal rights activists as terrorists, and works hand in glove with the National Rifle Association (NRA) in “promoting gun rights”. Gun rights such as the incredibly expansive “Stand Your Ground” laws. It should be noted as a sidebar that ALEC is also behind the also controversial Citizens United case which greatly expanded corporate personality and essentially allowed unlimited corporate spending in election advertising. To put it bluntly, ALEC is an organization with a corporatist/fascist agenda. An agenda that would benefit by an increase in gun violence as a rationale for promoting the privatization of government services and institutions like prisons and law enforcement. For more information on ALEC, see the joint venture between The Nation and the Center for Media and Democracy called “ALEC Exposed“.
To put “Stand Your Ground” in context, first consider that the common law doctrine of self-defense provides that 1) a citizen may use reasonable force 2) in defense of themselves, 3) others and 4) sometimes property 5) under imminent threat by an attacker and 6) may be justified in using lethal force in certain objective circumstances such as a reasonable fear of imminent serious injury or death, but 7) also has a duty to retreat or evade if possible.
It should be noted that this provides an affirmative defense. This means that the defender may be charged with a crime but that the crime may be excused due to the mitigating circumstances of self-defense.
The first major modification of this doctrine came in the form of the Castle Doctrine, which although it has older roots in some disparate case law dating as far back as the late 19th Century has also been sponsored more recently by ALEC and the NRA. While it varies from state to state, the notable distinctions are that it 1) removes the duty to retreat or evade in your own home, business and/or vehicle and 2) sometimes provides immunity from criminal charges and civil suits for 3) what would otherwise be self-defense in one’s own home. There are some general qualifiers to this doctrine which may (but not always) include: 1) the intruder must be making (or have made) an attempt to unlawfully or forcibly enter an occupied residence, business, or vehicle, 2) must be acting unlawfully, and 3) the occupant(s)/defender(s) of the home must reasonably believe the intruder intends to inflict serious bodily harm or death upon an occupant of the home although some states apply the Castle Doctrine if the occupant(s)/defender(s) of the home reasonably believe the intruder intends to commit a lesser felony such as arson or burglary and 4) the occupant(s)/defender(s) of the home must not have provoked or instigated the intrusion and/or an intruder’s threat or use of deadly force.
Often packaged and sold with the Castle Doctrine laws is the “Stand Your Ground” provisions at issue in the instant case. To further differentiate “Stand Your Ground” from the common law doctrine of self-defense, “Stand Your Ground” essentially removes the duty to retreat regardless of where you are. Or as Former US Attorney Kendall Coffey told NBC, “The ‘Stand Your Ground’ law is a license to kill. [. . .] The ‘Stand Your Ground’ law has become a huge obstacle to preventing exactly this kind of self-appointed vigilantism—this kind of vigilante justice. It used to be if you shot somebody in quote-unquote ‘self-defense,’ you were protected. But in 2005, Florida decided to become the pioneering state to extend this kind of self-protection to wherever the heck you go…”
According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, as of 2012, the number of so-called justifiable homicides in the state had tripled since Jeb Bush signed the “Stand Your Ground” law in 2005. It appears Florida state Senator Steve Geller was prescient in his warnings. Perhaps he is related to Uri Geller.
The Bush Doctrine
The Bush Doctrine describes a foreign policy stance adopted by the George W. Bush administration and primarily constructed by neoconservative hawks like Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and the “think tank” known as Project for the New American Century (PNAC). While the Bush Doctrine is a little (but only a little) more complicated than a doctrine of preemptive warfare, it has four primary features: unilateral action in place of cooperative action or consensus building (because we are the John Wayne of Nations, naturally), attacking countries that harbor terrorists (which, considering terrorism is a tactic, essentially means whomever the administration wants to attack and can even remotely paint with a broad brush), preemptive warfare and promote (ironically) democratic regime change (which the last time I checked was interfering with the sovereignty of a foreign nation in addition to being next to impossible to impose by external force given the nature of the term “democracy”). Perhaps not so coincidental, Jeb Bush was a signatory to the original statement of principles issued by PNAC. However, for the purposes here, it is the preemptive warfare component of that disastrous doctrine that is relevant. Citing Enoch v. State, No. 1D10-3443, July 27, 2012 and the Bush Doctrine, attorney Robert Berry has requested a “Stand Your Ground” hearing to clear his client William T. Woodward of the charges against him in the fatal shooting of two of his neighbors and the severe wounding of a third man.
The Case of William T. Woodward
A neighborhood feud culminated in a “preemptive strike”.
At 12:30 AM on Sept. 3, 2012, police arrived to 1950 Smith Drive in Titusville, Florida to find that William Woodward had snuck up on his neighbors and shot them while they were having a Labor Day barbeque. The incident started with a fight over an allegedly stolen roll of duct tape before exploding into gunfire. In the aftermath, Gary Lee Hembree dies on the scene and Roger Picior later died from their injuries. The third victim, Bruce Timothy Blake, survived. He had been shot sixteen times.
As with many such situations, this was the result of ongoing conflict. Before the shootin, police had responded numerous times to the ongoing dispute. Woodward and Hembree even went to court before Judge John D. Moxley, who did not issue an injunction or any other court orders. In the motion filed by Woodward’s attorneys, it says that in the hours prior to the shooting that Hembree, Picior and Blake were yelling at Woodward, calling him names and saying “Come on boys. We’re going to get him. We’re going to get him, all three of us.” This kind of behavior had been allegedly ongoing for over a month. The question is was this an imminent threat a reasonable person would take as a threat imminent of death or necessary to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony. Stealing a roll of duct tape in and of itself is not a felony. Insofar as imminence is concerned though, there is no concrete legal definition. As Assistant State Attorney Wayne Holmes explained “As with many things in not only the law, but life in general, you’ve got to have a certain amount of flexibility. [. . .] There’s a certain amount of ability to take the facts, whatever they may be and apply it to that law. Sometimes it fits perfectly; sometimes it doesn’t fit at all.” Does this seem to fit? Woodward’s attorney Robert Berry told Florida Today that “[he thinks] legally that term has sort of been evolving especially given changes of our government’s definition of ‘imminent. It’s become more expansive than someone putting a gun right to your head. It’s things that could become, you know, an immediate threat.” [emphasis added]
Did the definition of the word imminent change with the Bush Doctrine?
According to OED, “imminent” means “about to happen”. “Could” as the past tense of “can” means “used to indicate possibility”. One is a statement of probability, the other a statement of possibility. Likely versus might. I don’t think the meaning of the word changed, but that there are those with a vested interest in changing the definition in a polar and nonsensical manner. Keep that in mind the next time you hear a politician use the word “imminent”. You have been and will continue hearing that word a lot from politicians in days recently past and in the near future.
Did the original common law doctrine of self-defense need to be changed at all?
I don’t think so. It served its purpose and it served it well. Those acting in reasonable and proportionate self-defense did not go to prison for their actions.
Can a questionable national foreign policy stance be used to bolster an affirmative defense or a serve as an excuse for exculpation in a “Stand Your Ground” hearing over an individual’s – not a state’s or Federal – actions?
Unlikely, but it illustrates the common macho/cowboy ideals behind such “thinking”. However, the cloudy and certainly propagandized distortion of language used in formulating a poor foreign policy stance neither translates into either a semantic drift in the English language nor a properly asserted affirmative defense or exculpation of an individual’s actions. As Melbourne, Florida attorney Kepler Funk said “it was ‘valid’ that Woodward would want an independent jury to make this decision rather than a judge, but felt it was unlikely the court would convene one for this pretrial hearing. ‘It’s novel for sure, and I’m all for thinking outside the box, so I commend him for that. I don’t know the court’s going to grant the motion though.”
Is what’s good for the goose good for the gander?
Is what’s good for the goose not good for the gander?
What do you think?
Source(s): WESH.com, Raw Story, FloridaToday.com, The Daily Mail (UK), PBS, The Nation (1, 2), Enoch v. State, No. 1D10-3443, July 27, 2012. (FindLaw), ALEC Exposed, Jeb Bush photo by Gage Skimore, Oxford English Dictionary and Wikipedia (various references).
~submitted by Gene Howington, Guest Blogger